For many people in New Jersey, the estate planning process presents the potential for stress and anxiety due to concerns about offending potential beneficiaries. Many may use the potential for this fear as a reason for avoiding the process altogether (going instead to leave the task of dividing up their estates to their heirs once they are gone).
This attitude may be prevalent among many (given the fact that the American Association of Retired Persons reports that nearly 60% of American adults do not have a will). Yet if one dies intestate (without a will), the decisions related to the distribution of their estate does not fall to their descendants, but rather becomes subject to state law.
Detailing a surviving spouse’s share of an intestate estate
Section 3B.5-3 of New Jersey’s state statutes details a surviving spouse’s interest in an intestate estate. Here it states that the surviving spouse inherits the entire estate if the decedent leaves behind no issue (direct lineal descendants) or if any issue they do leave behind is also the issue of the surviving spouse. That interest lowers to the first 25% of the estate’s value (not be less than $50,000 or to exceed $200,000) plus one-half of its remaining amount if one or more of the decedent’s issue is not also the issue of the surviving spouse, or if the surviving spouse has issue that is not also the issue of the decedent. The surviving spouse receives the same initial amount plus three-fourths of the remaining amount of the estate if the decedent has no issue but does have surviving parents.
Outlining intestate succession hierarchy
If there is no surviving spouse to inherit an estate, it passes in the following order:
- Maternal and paternal kindred
The law gives no consideration to anyone not directly related to the decedent.